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August 10, 2013
Tiki dancers moved to the beat of the drums, spinning wooden staffs with burning ends through the air, illuminating the platform they were on in the fading light. Below the platform, nearly a dozen pretty girls in grass skirts and coconut bikinis swayed flowingly, their hands controlling small streams of water gracefully and beautifully.
Devion leaned against the trunk of a palm tree, holding a wooden cup filled to the brim with sweet mangorange juice. He watched the flaming staffs twirl and spin through the night. It was quite an amazing thing. The tiki dancers had to focus intensely to make sure they didn't drop the burning staves. He grinned while picturing a comical scene in which one of the tiki dancers drops his stick and sets fire to a hula girl's head.
Kialuk walked up beside Devion, holding a wooden cup in his hand. "What's so funny?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing," Devion replied, a smile still on his face. "Just thinking about what would happen if one of the tiki dancers dropped his staff."
Devion's best friend shook his head. "Let me guess, you were laughing at the thought of one of the hula girls running around with her hair on fire?" Scoffing, Devion nodded. "Pretty much."
Kialuk continued to shake his head, but kept on laughing. He took a sip of his mangorange juice and then turned around at the sound of joyful shrieks. Devion also turned his head in the direction of the noise and watched as nearly a dozen young children ran out of the palm trees being chased by three men wearing tiki masks over their heads. People around the beach started to laugh and point at the men and children.
A few moments later, a yell from down by the water dragged everyone's attention away. Five men and two women about thirty years old stood on a large block of ice. They all were crouched in a bending stance and began to flow their arms and bodies fluently. Each of the waterbenders drew a long stream of water out of the sea beside them and began to spin the water above their heads.
One of the waterbenders in the back brought his hands over his head and then pushed them forward. A large ball of water flew from the bay and hovered above the other six waterbenders. Each of them twirled their streams of water above their heads and then around their waists before dipping them down below the ice block they were standing on. A moment later, they shot their streams back up.
Devion's eyes widened as he saw the faint lights glowing in the dark blue water. The benders moved their water into the large ball floating above them and the tiny lights floated into the massive orb. All the waterbenders raised their arms pushed them upwards. The ball soared into the sky, hovering nearly a hundred feet over the beach, sparkling in the night sky.
All at once, the seven waterbenders waved their arms around their heads and then shot their arms outward. Devion looked up at the sky and watched as the water burst, sending droplets of water and sparkling lights tumbling down to the beach. The effect was beautiful. Firelight reflected off of the sparkling specks showering down in the sky. Water sprinkled down between the specks, glowing in the orange light. The citizens of Kiolu stared up in wonder. It seemed almost as if the stars were raining down from the sky and onto the sand beside the ocean. Everyone on the beach was entranced, enchanted. Even the drummers and dancers had fallen still and looked upon the spectacle with wonder.
When the specks reached the silent crowd, the children began to jump up and reach for the sparkling flecks with the adults and older kids turned towards the waterbenders and started to cheer. The faces of the seven performers turned from tranquility to elation at the response from the citizens.
"That was beautiful, wasn't it?" whispered Laona, putting her arm around Devion. Devion nodded in agreement. "Definitely magical."
The whole performance had seemed to cast a spell of serenity over the celebrating men and women. They moved about with smiles on their faces, talking happily and joyfully but calmly as the dancers started to move and the drummers started to play. "Devion, look," Kialuk murmured, pointing up towards the south cliff.
At the very tip of the escarpment, bright lights were starting to flash on and off, almost like a signal. It took Devion a moment to realize what it was, but before he could say anything, Kialuk spoke. "It's time for the party."
Quickly telling his mother goodbye, Kialuk and Devion rushed forward towards the road that winded up the cliff. Other kids their age had seen the sign and were starting to flow onto the path that would take them to the celebration.
Devion looked over at Kialuk and noticed that his friend looked a little bit stressed, almost as if he was trying to say something but wouldn't or couldn't say it. Raising an eyebrow, Devion said, "Kialuk, is something wrong?"
"What? Oh. Oh, no, everything's fine..." replied Kialuk, taken aback a bit by the question.
Devion shrugged to himself, skeptical about Kialuk's response. Just the way his best friend had answered hinted that something was bugging Kialuk.
The walk up to the cliff top was a little less than a mile and took Devion and Kialuk about ten minutes. They followed a winding path up the top of the cliff, twisting around the tall palm trees and sprawling fig trees. Small huts and shacks could be seen built deeper in the forest or closer to the edge of the cliff. Once they reached the end of the path, they walked out into a large, open space looking out over the silver, moonlight ocean.
Dim lights hung from the trees on two sides of the large expanse. In the center was a table filled with bowls of drinks and snack foods such as various fruits, a few pastries, and some fried squid.
Already, nearly two dozen teenagers Devion recognized were standing around the clearing. Aged sixteen to twenty, he figured about thirty or thirty-five more people would arrive in the next half hour.
"Hey, Devion, Kialuk!" cried Waipae, walking over to them with a wooden cup filled with some sort of drink in his hands. "Welcome to the party!"
"Thanks," replied Devion. "So how's it going so far?"
Waipae looked around and nodded. "It's pretty slow right now, but once more people get here, it'll start getting fun!" He took a swig of his drink and then clapped Kialuk on the shoulder. "I'll see you guys around," he added, swaying over to a group of girls that just arrived.
"What's up with him?" asked Kialuk, grimacing.
"I don't know," Devion said with a shrug, although he had his suspicions about what Waipae was drinking.
Drums started to play loudly from one side of the cliff top, a fast and rhythmic beat. Devion wandered over to the table with the drinks and scooped himself a cup of what smelled the most fruity and normal.
He took a sip of the drink and decided it tasted like regular mangorange juice and looked around at the party. People were flooding into the clearing and within five minutes there were nearly sixty or so people moving around and dancing on the cliff top.
"Isn't there a hazard that someone will fall off the cliff?" asked Kialuk, stepping up beside Devion.
Shrugging, Devion looked around and noticed several people dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. He raised his eyebrows and turned back to Kialuk. "Let's hope no one falls."
Kialuk chuckled and glanced over at the people standing near the precipice. "That would be quite unfortunate."
Scanning the party, Devion spotted Nani walking into the clearing with a few of her friends. Her dark chocolate brown hair fell wavy and smoothly down her back. She was wearing a yellow, red, and white dress that looked absolutely beautiful with her tan skin. A wooden, beaded necklace with the Island Water Tribe symbol on it sat around her neck.
The symbol was a crude palm tree with a simple wave towering over it, the rising moon visible behind the wave and tree. It represented the tropical setting of the island, the water in which many of the inhabitants bend, and the power from the moon they need in order to control the graceful element.
Devion nudged Kialuk with his elbow. "Nani's here," he muttered.
"What do you expect me to do?" replied Kialuk sharply. "I have the social skills of a dead sea slug when it comes to girls."
With a wince, Devion looked at Kialuk. He was a bit taken aback by his best friend's response. Kialuk usually wasn't cold. Something was definitely wrong, and Devion needed to talk to Kialuk in private soon.
"I'll just go pretend to run into her and then start talking to her," grumbled
Devion, slinking away into the crowd. He slipped between partygoers, occasionally saying greetings to some of the people he knew well, all the while craning his neck to make sure he could still see Nani. After less than a minute, he stood behind a group of tipsy girls fifteen feet from Nani as she chatted with her friends. Casually, Devion held his cup high in his hand and walked backwards towards Nani, smiling and looking around at the party. Bracing himself, even though he knew it wouldn't just be a bump; Devion took the final steps and then hit Nani's neck lightly with his shoulders.
"Woah!" yelped Nani, surprise in her voice as she jumped and spun around.
"I'm sorry," said Devion, also turning around. "I didn't see you there."
Nani looked up at Devion and the surprise in her eyes faded away. "Oh, hey there Devion!"
Feigning shock at the coincidence of them bumping into each other, Devion grinned widely. "Hello, Nani!" he exclaimed over the noise of the drummers.
"Isn't this party great?" she asked, looking around with wide eyes.
"Yeah, it's pretty awesome," agreed Devion. "I wouldn't think a bunch of teenagers would be able to set up a party this nice."
"Me too," chuckled Nani. "Great surfing today, again. It was really cool. I wish I could do that." She shrugged. "But, I'm not a bender."
"That's okay, if you aren't a bender," Devion told her. "I'm pretty sure on one of the eastern islands there's a school that teaches nonbenders how to surf."
"Maybe I'll have to go there," Nani said with a smile. After a short pause, she tilted her neck to the left and said, "Hey, Kialuk!"
"Hi, Nani," he replied tersely. Kialuk placed his hand on Devion's shoulder. "Can I talk to you?" His voice was tense and his eyes looked a little worried, almost sad.
"Umm, yeah, sure," Devion responded, throwing an annoyed look towards his best friend. Kialuk ignored him and Devion grew a bit frustrated. "I'll be back in a little bit," he told her, looking at Nani.
"Okay," she said cheerily.
Kialuk turned away and started to push through the crowd with Devion right behind him. Annoyed, Devion followed only because he was a good friend. They entered the forest and darkness soon surrounded them.
They walked in silence through the forest. Devion was itching to speak, to ask Kialuk what he wanted to talk about so he could get back to the party, but he didn't really know how to do it without sounding rude.
After about three minutes, they reached the edge of the cliff where two jagged rocks stood as a natural gateway to a narrow but safe path down the cliff side. It led to a small, private beach that Devion had only been to a few times before. Not many people knew about it, and the only way to get there was by this path. Due to the rocks surrounding the beach and the waves that crashed on the rocks tumbled onto the beach, making it extremely dangerous to swim or sail a boat to.
Finally deciding to break the silence, Devion said, "So what do you want to talk about?"
Kialuk scratched his head and sighed as they walked down the twisting path. "We're moving."
Devion's heart dropped and his voice became stuck in his throat. He couldn't believe it....his best friend was going to be moving away from him. For seventeen years, they'd known each other. Kialuk was the brother Devion never had. To think he was moving away made Devion want to tear something in half. He'd be lost without Kialuk, his smart, dorky, and kind friend.
"T-To o-one of...of the outer islands?" he asked as soon as he could, staring at the narrow earth beneath his feet. "That's no-not too b-bad. We can visit you every week. It's only a few hours away." A ray of hope beamed in his chest as he realized he would still be able to see Kialuk often.
But then Kialuk shook his head. "No, Devion," he replied, his voice eerily calm. "My father wants to return to where he grew up. He wants us to move to the North Pole."
If it were possible, Devion's heart dropped even lower than it already was. The North Pole was days, weeks away from the Island Tribe. It would take Devion more than fourteen days to travel there, and another fourteen days back. To visit there would mean being gone for nearly two months, something he wouldn't be able to do. All words escaped him. There was nothing he could think to say.
Then there was a splash down on the beach about fifty feet away. The sound was different than the usual lapping of the waves against the shore or the crashing onto the rocks. It sounded like a human was in the water, struggling to stay afloat. With just a moment of eye contact, Devion and Kialuk sprinted down the path and jumped off it, landing softly on the sand. The thing in the water splashed again and they looked around for a body.
"Over there!" exclaimed Kialuk, pointing a few yards down the beach.
Devion shot towards where he saw the unmistakable outline of a human body and skidded to a stop, coming down to his knees on the damp sand. He placed his hands on the man's shredded shirt and dragged him out of the water, setting him down on the sand. The man looked terrible, as if he had been at sea for well over a day. His clothes were waterlogged, his hair plastered to his skin shiny from the water. Scratches covered his face and chest and there was a nasty looking burn mark on his chest. A large purple and yellow bruise covered an entire side of his neck and the man's right arm was bent at an awkward angle.
"What should we do?" shouted Kialuk, panic in his eyes.
Devion blinked. He couldn't think of how to respond. What was this man doing in the ocean? Why was he injured with scratches and burns? How did he survive the perilous rocks that blocked this beach from the rest of the bay? Just before he could think of any more questions, the man's gray eyes flew up and he shot up from his prone position, coughing and spluttering water all over himself.
"They're coming," he rasped, his voice ragged and his breath heavy. "The Fire Nation."
2,596 words in The Stranger.
|Flames on the Horizon Chapters|
|Book 1 - Embers|
|~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~|
|Book 2 - Flames|
|Book 3 - Inferno|
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